Churchill Downs 38-Day Spring Meet Beings Saturday With William Walker Stakes
Kentucky Derby 1 Week Away
As the Kentucky Derby nears next Saturday and the Derby horses take to the track for their weekend workouts, the 38-day spring meets gets underway tonight at Churchill Downs. A pair of stakes races lead the slate of features approaching next weekend’s 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby and Friday’s Kentucky Oaks.
The $100,000 William Walker Stakes goes in race 9 and Syndergaard is the heavy 4-5 favorite and looks like he’s in another league from his six rivals. The jockey and trainer combination of John Velazquez and Todd Pletcher bring Synergaard to the track for his 2017 debut. He won his first two starts at Saratoga last August before he was nosed out as the favorite by Derby entrant Practical Joke in the Champagne (G1) at Belmont. He set the pace but faded to a well-beaten 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind winner Classic Empire followed by Not This Time and Practical Joke – all top flight 3-year-olds this year. He’s training well in March and April with a number of bullet works leading into his 3-year-old campaign.
Next Saturday, Velazquez and Pletcher will team together with one of the Kentucky Derby favorites Always Dreaming.
Conquest Wildcat (5-1) has shown improvement in his last two races and looks like the main competition to Syndergaard while En Hanse (5-1) should like the move back to this 6-furlong sprint distance after carrying the lead through six furlongs in a Grade III in March but fading badly to 9th going 1 1/8 miles. He broke his maiden at this distance over the Churchill track last November and won the minor WEBN Stakes wire-to-wire at Turfway in February, upsetting the heavy 3-5 favorite Star Empire at 6 ½ furlongs.
Race 4 Saturday is the $64,000 Roxelana Overnight Stakes for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs with the 4-5 favorite Finley’sluckycharm a perfect 3-for-3 at Churchill and just missed in the Grade I La Brea when shipped to Santa Anita in December. Training well for Brett Calhoun for her 2017 debut.
Churchill’s 38-day meet includes the additions of the Matron (May 20) and Chicago Handicap (June 24), both $100,000 Grade III races for older fillies and mares formerly run at Arlington Park.
The large opening night crowd will also see the Churchill track throws open the doors on its latest renovation work, a $16 million project to modernize the second floor of the Clubhouse. The area, which includes a completely upgraded facility with many creature comforts, typically can hold about 13,000 patrons. Additional improvements for fan goers include more ATM’s, restrooms and the installation of more than 220 flat-screen TV’s and upgraded food and beverage service.
Opening night festivities will include the second annual teaming with Louisville’s Fund for the Arts to showcase some 150 local artists with 20 live arts performances around the track.
A total stakes purse of $8.64 million highlighted by next Saturday’s $2 million Kentucky Derby and Friday’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks will be available during the 38-day meet that runs Wednesday’s to Sunday’s through June 30.